The Pirate and His Sea of Glass: Dale Chihuly

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Thanks to the overwhelming number of responses to our call for suggestions, "Feel Art Again" will now also be appearing on Saturdays (at least for the summer). Our Saturday posts, though, will be a little different from the regular Tuesday and Thursday posts.

Our first ever Saturday artist is the glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, at the request of reader Nikki. Chihuly is ideal for this honor, considering his history of firsts: he attended America's first glassblowing program, was named the first National Living Treasure, was the subject of the first HDTV broadcast in America, and designed the first translucent glass-top Steinway piano. So let's delve right into the legend and his "Seaform Pavilion," part of the Chihuly Bridge of Glass at the Museum of Glass (Tacoma, WA).

1. Perhaps a result of his initial disinterest in higher education, Dale Chihuly took a break from his studies in 1962, changed schools, and switched majors. He first traveled to Florence during his hiatus, but was discouraged by his inability to communicate with the locals. His solution? Head to the Middle East instead.

2. With wild hair and a black patch over one eye, Chihuly looks a bit like a pirate. The eye patch isn't just for dramatic flair, though; Chihuly is blind in his left eye. The injury resulted from a 1976 car accident in England, after which he underwent 256 stitches in his face.

3. Chihuly has lead an adventurous life. After earning his B.A., he ventured up to Alaska and worked as a commercial fisherman for a year, to earn money for grad school. A year after he established the glass program at the Rhode Island School of Design, Chihuly and his friends shut down RISD "in protests over the Cambodian offense." While bodysurfing just 3 years after his car accident, Chihuly dislocated his shoulder; he hasn't blown glass since. He still managed to bike a 1,000 mile tour of Brittany 3 years later, though.

4. Chihuly has turned his work into a vast mass-production empire, not only producing the hundreds of glass sculptures and their exhibitions through his company, Chihuly Inc., but also producing books, documentaries, and other related products through Portland Press, his publishing company. Chihuly himself no longer blows the glass or sculpts it; he has an army of artists working for him. He does, however, sign every piece, and has stated that production will cease when he's no longer able to sign.

5. The mass-production of his works had already raised some debate over the validity of Chihuly's work. In 2006, the debate intensified when Chihuly sued two other glass blowers for copyright infringement. Bryan Rubino, one of the defendants, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "If anything, Mother Nature should be suing Dale Chihuly," since most of Chihuly's inspiration is taken from nature.

6. The Seaform Pavilion is a 50 feet by 20 feet plate-glass ceiling filled with 2,364 sculpted glass objects from Chihuly's Seaform and Persian series. The ceiling extends over most of the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, above the Museum of Glass. (I had the privilege of visiting two years ago and took the photos posted above.)

Larger versions of the photographs of Seaform Pavilion are available here. Fans of Dale Chihuly should check out his many books, the Dale Chihuly iGoogle theme, Don Sanchez's interview with Chihuly, and this Chihuly fax to a glassblowing contractor. Current Chihuly Exhibits:Chihuly at the de Young (San Francisco: June 14 "“ Sept. 28, 2008)The Glass Experience (Chicago: through Sept. 1, 2008) "˜Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. E-mail us at with details on current art exhibits or artist suggestions.